Tapers: picking up the sound at its moment of creation for the future
November 24, 2018 9:27 PM   Subscribe

Like every other part of the music world, taping has changed utterly in the digital age. Once dismissed as mere bootlegging, the surrounding attitudes, economies, and technologies have evolved. It's been a long haul since Dean Benedetti recorded Charlie Parker's solos on a wire recorder. In the '60s and '70s aspiring preservationists snuck reel-to-reel recorders into venues under battlefield conditions, scaling down to professional quality handheld cassette decks and eventually to DATs. From there, to laptops and finally to portable drives ... The Invisible Hit Parade: How Unofficial Recordings Have Flowered in the 21st Century -- Jesse Jarnow writing for Wired, linking the tech pioneers of the Grateful Dead (also Wired) to NYC Taper and others sharing on Etree.
posted by filthy light thief (36 comments total) 31 users marked this as a favorite
 
Also mentioned: the 5.1 fan-mix of Grateful Dead Live at Barton Hall, Cornell University on 1977-05-08 (on Archive.org's Etree mirror).

Not mentioned: the proliferation of fan recordings made on smartphones and small cameras that can actually sound pretty good, but tend to annoy the bands and other fans.

Previously:
- I've Got Every Right To Get Loud (May 29, 2011) -- Canada's own Godspeed You! Black Emperor recently reunited and played five nights in three NYC venues. Thanks to GY!BE's kindness toward set recording and NYCTaper you can listen to the two sets at the Brooklyn Masonic Temple.

- I Got You Covered. (June 25, 2013) -- Q: What do you call a Wilco concert, with no Wilco songs? A: Awesome. (NYC Taper link)

- Feast Days (October 1, 2013) -- It's an open secret that many bands and solo artists allow fans to audio record their live performances for non-commercial trading. The Internet Archive's Live Music Section is maintained by volunteers from etree.org, and currently offers over 120,000 live performances from nearly 6000 bands, for in-browser streaming as well as download in a variety of formats.

- A pint of fear and home by teatime (September 8, 2016) -- A post on "Fundamentalist punk rock art collective The Mekons" that closes with a bonus link a complete live show from the Bowery Ballroom in 2015, courtesy of NYC Taper.
posted by filthy light thief at 9:37 PM on November 24, 2018 [2 favorites]


In the '60s and '70s aspiring preservationists snuck reel-to-reel recorders into venues under battlefield conditions.

OK, having owned and used and lugged around my fair share of reel-to-reel recorders produced between the 50's and 70's, I would love to know how the hell they accomplished this. They are huge and weigh as much as a satchel of watermelons.

This isn't snark. It's respect. How?! I need to know this secret.

"Pirate archivists view official media preservation as a precarious business," says Abigail De Kosnik, author of Rogue Archives: Digital Cultural Memory and Media Fandom. "A very small percentage of television has ever been officially archived, a little more film has been saved—but still, just think of all of the amazing silent film that has been lost forever."

I'm stealing "pirate archivist." Put it on my tombstone.

(Delightful post!)
posted by nightrecordings at 10:01 PM on November 24, 2018 [7 favorites]


One of the coolest pieces of bootlegging tech I've seen is the advent of binural earbud style microphones.

It just looks like you're wearing earbuds or earplugs, and you can plug them in to digital recorders ranging from a pro film/cine bag recorder to affordable Zoom field recorders and even tiny pen recorders meant for memo taking and recording meetings.
posted by loquacious at 10:05 PM on November 24, 2018 [12 favorites]


OK, having owned and used and lugged around my fair share of reel-to-reel recorders produced between the 50's and 70's, I would love to know how the hell they accomplished this. They are huge and weigh as much as a satchel of watermelons.

They made much smaller portable recorders with like 3" or 5" reels and a standard 1/4th inch tape. They were still very large, the size of a small to medium suitcase or maybe a bit smaller than the original Compaq luggable CRT screen computer, and likely about the same weight since they ran on either very large dry cells, banks of D cells or related battery tech.

Techmoan on YouTube has videos of at least one of these somewhere, as well as a variety of odd portable recording formats that go far beyond reel to reel or Phillips Compact Cassette, including 8-track recorders and broadcast radio industry and/or journalism marketed recorders that would have been attractive to bootleggers.

Also, never mind the giant portable recorder! How the heck do you record an entire show on reel to reel tapes and how do you swap those out often enough to not attract attention, especially if you were running at 7.5 to 15 IPS for high quality and maybe dealing with smaller reels instead of full sized ones?

I can only imagine at least two overweight portable recorders running back to back with overlaps, plus a bunch of extra batteries or some access to a power outlet, plus a crapton of tapes, plus whatever mics and booms and mic cables you'd need for each one.
posted by loquacious at 10:18 PM on November 24, 2018 [3 favorites]


OK, having owned and used and lugged around my fair share of reel-to-reel recorders produced between the 50's and 70's, I would love to know how the hell they accomplished this. They are huge and weigh as much as a satchel of watermelons.

That kid in the wheelchair? He's sitting on it and like 4 dozen D cells. ( Summer 89, we were hauling a marine battery to power the 4 track and beta-hifi... )

Alpine 89. It was raining. By the 3rd day we were bringing in a 4 person Eureka A-Frame tent. ( Tent fabric goes on top, looks like a tarp. Person A picks it up and holds it while other gear is inspected. Pole bag is lashed to the mic-stand )

There's nothing more inventive than Tapers.
posted by mikelieman at 10:19 PM on November 24, 2018 [12 favorites]


Jesse Jarnow… there's a name I haven't seen since the glory days of rec.music.phish
posted by morspin at 10:56 PM on November 24, 2018 [3 favorites]


They made much smaller portable recorders with like 3" or 5" reels and a standard 1/4th inch tape. They were still very large, the size of a small to medium suitcase or maybe a bit smaller than the original Compaq luggable CRT screen computer, and likely about the same weight since they ran on either very large dry cells, banks of D cells or related battery tech.

To be clear, these portable recorders are the ones of which I was thinking. NOT the standalone reel to reel units. To me, a small to medium sized suitcase is conspicuous. It still boggles my mind how you'd sneak that in but I suppose if you wink and fib enough (or go the wheelchair / tent route, as pointed out by mikelieman), anything is possible.
posted by nightrecordings at 11:30 PM on November 24, 2018


The 1981 French film "Diva" had an opening scene portraying a young bootlegger smuggling reel-to-reel equipment into a theater. It's been 30 years since I saw it, but it might be instructive to the curious.
posted by St. Oops at 12:51 AM on November 25, 2018 [6 favorites]


"Diva" features a Nagra recorder, which is a pro level recorder which at the time would be out of the price bracket for most tapers, I suspect it's just what they had handy on the film set.
The Beatles bootlegs were recorded on a Nagra but not by an actual bootlegger/taper.
posted by Lanark at 3:38 AM on November 25, 2018 [3 favorites]


So I have recorded one concert in my life, and though I am glad I have the tape, listening to it again later surprised me with how bad it was (my mate Malcolm singing along, for example).

Tapers only get one chance at a given show. If they capture talking or they need to go to the bathroom or the batteries run out, they’ve failed. How do they practice? Who teaches them? Is there active critique, and a body of best practices that’s passed on formally?

And has anyone got favorites they would like to share?
posted by wenestvedt at 4:23 AM on November 25, 2018


"Diva" features a Nagra recorder, which is a pro level recorder which at the time would be out of the price bracket for most tapers

Yes buying one would be expensive, but those Nagras were part of a standard 16 mm film production kit, and the university film departments, local news stations, production rental houses, etc, had them on the shelves. Hard to own one, yes, but not too hard to get your hands on one for a few days.
posted by StickyCarpet at 4:29 AM on November 25, 2018 [2 favorites]


A translucent apparition, a button-eyed stooped figure with flyaway white curls, shambles through the room muttering, “C'est un Nagra. C'est suisse, et tres, tres precis.”
posted by seanmpuckett at 5:40 AM on November 25, 2018 [4 favorites]


Cassette tape before digital, always! Portable handheld cassette recorders are still wicked cheap and also can be bought from thrift stores sometimes. Super fun to play with, I highly recommend.
posted by agregoli at 6:27 AM on November 25, 2018 [2 favorites]


What I get from this is we can thank porn and the Grateful Dead for the Internet we know and love.
posted by tommasz at 7:01 AM on November 25, 2018 [2 favorites]


I just rewatched Diva a couple nights ago, so this is very timely.
posted by adamrice at 7:13 AM on November 25, 2018


As one of those despised old boomers, the Interwebs have been a boon for collecting Recordings Of Indeterminate Origin. It used to cost a fortune to buy these, found in only seedy catalogs or independent record stores with a loose interpretation of legal recordings. And now...it's all out there.

I have never counted the number of boots I've collected since everything went online but it's ridiculous. My brother was looking at the memory stats on my computer/external drive and complaining that it was abnormal. So I put on Robert Plant's 2010 appearance at the BBC Proms and cranked it up. "OK, either burn me a copy of that or put it on my laptop".

There's a number of acts that offer up live recordings for online sale and that's my preferred route. But for everyone that does, there's a dozen others that couldn't be bothered, both vintage and current. And off we go, to Traders Den, Dimeadozen, etc. And thank you to all those whose tireless work created and maintain Internet Archive!
posted by Ber at 7:54 AM on November 25, 2018 [3 favorites]


Make way for the guy with the 78 lathe …
posted by scruss at 7:55 AM on November 25, 2018 [2 favorites]


And while we're listing sites, ye olde e-tree bittorrent tracker http://bt.etree.org/
posted by mikelieman at 8:36 AM on November 25, 2018 [1 favorite]


From the e-tree tracker, a recent favorite.

Zac Brown Band
Alpine Valley Music Theatre
East Troy, WI
August 12, 2018

Taper: bersey [email address withheld, msl]
Location: Section 202, Row CCC, Seat 115, next to soundboard "bunker", mics about 7' high
Source: CA-11 cardioids > CA-9100 > Sony PCM-M10 @ 24 bit/48kHz
Conversion: Sony PCM-M10 > PC > Sony Sound Forge Audio Studio 9.0 (fades, normalize, resample
to 44,100 Hz, dither to 16 bit) > CD Wave Editor (tracking) >
Trader's Little Helper (encode to flac, level 6) > foobar 2000 (tagging)
posted by mikelieman at 8:39 AM on November 25, 2018


"Diva" features a Nagra recorder, which is a pro level recorder which at the time would be out of the price bracket for most tapers, I suspect it's just what they had handy on the film set.

Slight derail here, but use of the Nagra was an integral part of the story line: it was the high quality of the clandestine recording being "out in the wild" which was most disconcerting to the reclusive opera singer Cynthia Hawkins.
posted by Insert Clever Name Here at 8:41 AM on November 25, 2018 [2 favorites]


This post reminds me of the time I dabbled in taping. It was an *important* band (of course I've forgotten who it was) that I taped at a coffeehouse in college long ago, with their permission and the permission of the person running the sound board, where I plugged in. Coming straight from the board in a small venue, with only the vocals mic'ed, the mix was all off, even more than I'd expected. Fun anyway.
posted by exogenous at 10:13 AM on November 25, 2018 [2 favorites]


I like the bands with long-lived fan sites with live recordings. I know Underworld and Arcade Fire had them.
posted by Pronoiac at 10:30 AM on November 25, 2018 [2 favorites]


This post reminded me of the YouTube channel The Boot Tube which has excellent videos of various concerts in the Ottawa area.
posted by invokeuse at 10:55 AM on November 25, 2018 [1 favorite]


I had a good friend who was super into Grateful Dead tapes. He had a gigantic collection of them. I did LSD with him one time and listened to about 8 hours of live recordings from some of his favorite shows they played and I swear Jerry Garcia jumped out of a tapestry he had on his wall and played in front of me.

I don’t know how prominent they were, but I’d love to find some decent live recordings of old and rare 90’s emo and hardcore bands. I follow a decent Instagram page that posts old flyers for those types of bands, maybe I’ll ask them if they know of a good site for that.

And where can I find great minimal house live sets at?????
posted by gucci mane at 11:25 AM on November 25, 2018


I used to get board mixes on casssettes from a friend who was a DJ at a local radio station when they would occasionally host shows. Lost of board mixes make it out into the wild as well.

The Zoom stuff is surprisingly not-terrible. A guitarist in one of my bands will set one up by the sound booth occasionally.

Aside: I thought of Diva as soon as I saw this thread. Don’t have much to add knowledge-wise, but I sure do love that film.
posted by Devils Rancher at 1:00 PM on November 25, 2018




And in more detail in Bootleg: The Secret History of the Other Recording Industry (Goodreads list of editions)
posted by filthy light thief at 1:47 PM on November 25, 2018 [2 favorites]


Thinking back on it, all the bands I've been obsessively into *did* have shadow discographies... The shadow discographies give the fans something to do between albums / tours / interviews and keep the obsession alive while the band rests.

I kinda hated trading tapes in the mail though so I was glad when one of these bands finally decided to reissue some of the fan favorite tracks officially as bonus tracks on reissues and rarities CDs, even an official rotating bootleg of the month on the band website.

Also, the move to stop getting the tracks removed from streaming and torrent sites etc was very welcome for a shy fan with nothing rare to trade in the mail. Dimeadozen and the internet archive are the sites I used the most as a lazy obsessive.

Even bands you wouldn't expect to have shadow discographies usually have them, you only need that one hardcore fan with recording equipment.
posted by subdee at 1:51 PM on November 25, 2018


Great post.

(proud owner of a MiniDisc recorder, a Walkman Pro cassette recorder and -blush- a Stellavox SP-7. Contemplating a ZOOM recorder.)

loquacious - One of the coolest pieces of bootlegging tech I've seen is the advent of binural earbud style microphones.

It just looks like you're wearing earbuds or earplugs, and you can plug them in to digital recorders ranging from a pro film/cine bag recorder to affordable Zoom field recorders and even tiny pen recorders meant for memo taking and recording meetings.


Absolutely. In fact I built a few sets from inexpensive headphones and cheap electret omni capsules, and it's astounding just how good a recording can be made with them.

There are even better mic capsules around now - Google "Primo EM172". Hoping to order some soon.
posted by Artful Codger at 4:17 PM on November 25, 2018 [3 favorites]


Oh, MiniDisc recorders! I had a player for a while, but a college friend recorded some shows at Coachella in the early 2000s on his MiniDisc recorder and some fairly sly microphones, but they weren't sly enough for a jerk next to him who decided to loudly say "Ooh, I'm bootlegging this! I'm recording this show!" or something like that.

And before that, I found that the valedictorian of my younger brother's high school had become a serious Nirvana tape and CDr trader, which was weird for me because I thought Nirvana was of my era and for folks a few years older. But there he was, with a stack of shows he was probably too young to see, even if he had grown up hundreds of miles to the north.
posted by filthy light thief at 6:53 PM on November 25, 2018 [1 favorite]


OK, having owned and used and lugged around my fair share of reel-to-reel recorders produced between the 50's and 70's, I would love to know how the hell they accomplished this. They are huge and weigh as much as a satchel of watermelons.

I just spent the last half hour scouring YouTube in the hopes of finding a clip of the very special episode of What's Happening! featuring the Doobie Brothers, where Rerun is trying to get tickets and ends up involved in bootlegging:
Rerun is too busy eating to get tickets, so he scores some from a couple of thugs who ask him to record the show. After two episodes’ worth of Doobie performances, including their huge hits “Black Water” and “Takin’ It To The Streets,” Rerun is discovered when his comically large (but ’70s-appropriate) tape recorder falls from his waist.
It wasn't that funny at the time, but in this context it would have been perfect, and if I could find a clip you'd see... Even the AV Club's embedded YT link is dead now. The irony of talking about bootlegs in this ubiquitous media age, when the automated takedown process on services such as YouTube has scrubbed them of the bits that made them fun, and the illicit samples of culture remain out of reach.
posted by krinklyfig at 7:17 PM on November 25, 2018 [3 favorites]


Such timing. I've been on another one of my taping/sharing binges lately, and just last night I was thinking about maybe doing a piece on this subject. But the mods that run my own favored ROIO tracker are absolutely 100% not interested in any kind of aboveground exposure, lest it become yet another instance of public mention threatening the existence of the thing itself. So I'm glad Jesse Jarnow has saved me the moral anguish.

I've been attracted to bootlegs and leaked recordings my whole life. As a young songwriter, I was obsessed with collecting home demos, even by artists that I didn't otherwise care about. I loved hearing songs in their nascent stages, full of hiss and ambience and raw blooming genius. I loved the sound of blocky acoustic guitars and pishy drum machines and melody-searching vocals. It was instructive to hear great artists either experimenting unselfconsciously or creating primitive drafts of songs that were etched into my heart. I was inspired by the idea that these great songwriters still started with the same raw stuff I had. Live shows, I was less enthused by, but for a time I was still too young to get into venues myself, so it was as close as I could get.

At the same time, I was fortunate to have a few indie shops that understood the need for young folks to have access to Cocteau Twins club gigs and Nico bedroom demos and vintage Iggy and the Stooges concerts at their bloodiest and most sludgey. I religiously attended record cons when they came through town, with tables and tables of TDK C90s with xeroxed covers on colored card stock, and little VCR/TV combos playing hideously-dubbed, artifacted-to-infinity VHS copies of Pixies and Jesus & Mary Chain and Elvis Costello concerts on a loop. Then came the Internet and alt.music.bootlegs, where my musical kinship circle suddenly exploded in a raft of .txt file trade lists and fat padded mailers landing on my mom's doorstep. Napster became my first exposure to "real-time" bootleg trading online, but those dire early days of the MP3 were unkind, even for folks already accustomed to the "take-what-you-can-get" fidelity of nth-generation cassettes. I finally joined my ROIO tracker in 2005 or so, and it's been a paradise of sonic delights ever since.

I still get a thrill hearing artists operating on the high wire of live performance. Many of my favorite recordings of all time are sourced from bootlegs. Some of them I've even taped myself. (Seriously, there are innumerable songs and artists in the world where I pity folks who only have access to their sanitized studio renditions.) It can easily become a slippery slope of collecting far more than you can sit down and enjoy, but if I've got an uninterrupted stretch of time in the car, I'll throw a bunch of newly-acquired shows on my phone and put myself in a club in Amsterdam in 2005, or a stadium in Detroit in 1974, or an in-studio session at some long-gone college station in the '80s underground. And if you weren't of an age or a circumstance to witness Sly Stone or Mark E. Smith or Elizabeth Fraser or Roxy Music or Mekons or Joni Mitchell or Siouxsie (or whomever) in their prime, it's a thrilling hit of musical time travel.
posted by mykescipark at 8:55 PM on November 25, 2018 [2 favorites]


Pausing to register my appreciation for NYCTaper, who brings us excellent Mountain Goats recordings.
posted by praemunire at 9:02 PM on November 25, 2018


The FPP made me wonder what a wire recorder looked like, and after a cursory investigation I can report back that they looked beautiful!
posted by Harald74 at 1:31 AM on November 26, 2018


The FPP made me wonder what a wire recorder looked like, and after a cursory investigation I can report back that they looked beautiful!

Because I'm who I am, here's the Webster wire recorder's ( pictured in your link ) manual
posted by mikelieman at 5:16 AM on November 26, 2018 [1 favorite]


Let's not forget Lionel Mapleson who recorded Metropolitan Opera performances on wax cylinders in 1901.
posted by in278s at 8:36 AM on November 26, 2018


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